Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Snowdon Ranger- PTG Tours

On 3rd and 4th September PTG tours, know for their foreign rail holidays, ran their first UK trip.
For me the itinerary was simply irresistible- A pair of class 50's on day 1 from London to North Wales, followed by a trip on both the Welsh Highland Railway. Day 2 saw a trip on the Ffestiniog before re-joining the class 50's at Bleanau for the run back to London.
The trip, naturally did not all go exactly to plan. When first announced it was 50026 which should have been the highlight of the trip, but it soon became apparent that this loco was never going to be ready in time. As time progressed it was looking less and less likely that ANY 50's would be ready to haul the train. Eventually just 50044 'Exeter' was available as despite a heroic effort, paperwork was not complete on 50049 in time. Routing was not so simple either- the
intention to use Mk3 stock prevented the train reaching Bleanau Ffestiniog- the train instead began from North Llanwrst with a bus transfer from Bleanau.
Despite these setbacks all was set. We had a superb looking 'Fifty' restored to original condition BR Blue and a comfortable train in the Virgin Pretendolino.
Arrival in North Wales was greeted by quite horrible weather, during which some of the party boarded a service train on the Welsh Highland hauled by Bayer-Garrat loco 87.
At Dinas we disembarked and awaited the next train, the special chartered by PTG hauled by double fairlie No. 12 'David Lloyd George' 'Fairlie's Patent' and 'Blanche'. Despite only being able to see 'where Snowdon is' rather than the actual mountain the Welsh Highland was spectacular. Arrival in a wet Porthmadog late afternoon left us plenty of time to find an evening meal and a pub!
Sunday morning dawned somewhat brighter, and after a leisurely breakfast the party made their way back to Porthmadog station to board our special hauled by 'Blanche' to Bleanau. In the sunshine the Ffestiniog was no less spectacular than the Welsh Highland, and it was with some regret that we bid farewell to 'Blanche' and entered coaches at Blaenau Ffestiniog for the journey to North Llanwerst.
Good time allowed us to arrive before the train, which after reversal was lead by 57304 'Gordon Tracey' to Llandudno Junction.
Following a reversal we headed back along the North Wales Coast to Chester, where the train was again reversed to leave the 'Exeter' to take us home via Wrexham, Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton.
Overall a valiant first effort from PTG in the UK and a very enjoyable weekend. PTG are planning more trips in the UK with both diesel and steam traction- certainly something for the 50 followers to watch out for...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

CC 72100 - Ride Europes most powerful diesel-electrics while you can!

Commissioned from 1967 - 1974 the CC 72100 locomotives for the SNCF were the most powerful diesel electric locomotives in Europe. A total of 92 machines were built to haul fast Intercity trains across the non-electrified portions of the French network as well as being capable of moving heavy freight trains.
The class could be seen throughout France for many years, but with the increase of the TGV network, and the replacement of many loco-hauled trains with units their work has declined. By the mid 2000's many locomotives had been withdrawn, but there was still one line with a medium term requirement for the machines, the old Line 4, from Paris Gare de l'Est to Mulhouse and on to Basel in Switzerland.
Known for their noise and pollution, residents in Paris had long campaigned against these locomotives, and so it was that between 2002 and 2004, 30 examples of the class were rebuilt with new engines and silencing to become the CC 72100's. These locomotives soon replaced all of the original 72000's on the route, and by 2010 were the last of the class working regular passenger trains, Just a handfull- (2 at the time of writing) of original CC 72000's remaining in traffic on freight and special duties.
All now carrying the latest 'En Voyage' livery in place of the classic blue and white colour scheme the 72100's working out of Paris Est are still impressive machines offering good diesel runs on what is now France's last all diesel trunk route. While the service was hit with the opening of the TGV Est in 2007- direct services to Basel being withdrawn, and many other services truncated and no longer reaching Mulhouse, this line is still worth riding.
You will, however have to be quick. The death nail for Line 4 is fast approaching with the TGV Rhin-Rhône route to Belfort and Mulhouse due to open early 2012. While it is unclear exactly what fate will befall the loco hauled trains, it is clear that the service will be severely hit, and likely that the remaining trains on the classic Line 4 will be worked by DMU's. Whether the 72100's will be re-deployed elsewhere remains to be seen. In the meantime it certainly does feel that winter of 2011 may be the final swansong of the classic CC 72100 diesels on the SNCF.